On Thursday, the Republican National Committee and the Fox Business News Channel hosted the first GOP Debate of 2016 in Charleston. I made the cross-country trek to be there to see it first-hand!
Below are some observations from various conservative and Republican leaders around the Golden State.
First, my quick takeaway:
The big difference in this debate was Ted Cruz finally pivoting and going on the attack against Trump. Cruz spoke more than any other candidate, much of it focused on “his friend Donald.”
I thought Trump was extremely consistent from previous debates, holding his own. I don’t think that Trump will lose ground, though perhaps Cruz will pick up more of the “we have to stop Trump” vote, with Iowa coming and the Texas Senator realistically being the only one with a play to stop him there.
The softballs thrown by the moderators in the first hour allowed everyone to start strong out the gate – except, perhaps, for Carson’s characteristically lethargic performance. Rubio and Christie had good performances. And Kasich lost some of his sharp elbows, helpful for an ersatz Veep. I thought Bush had a solid night, but he did not have nearly as much time as his top tier opponents–and it’s a bit late for him to start to claw his way up.
Arnold Steinberg, GOP Strategist and Pollster
In this debate, my criterion is, who gained ground? The upper tier was (1) Cruz/winner (forceful but staged), (2) Rubio/runner-up (glib but scripted), and (3) Trump/holding his own (unequivocal but redundant). At times in this debate, Cruz and Rubio were at an esoteric stand-off while Trump seemed plain-spoken. Each of these candidates had prepared lines, yet adapted; as a result, each held or expanded his base in Iowa and New Hampshire. Trump likely remains in first place nationally; Iowa remains up for grabs. The lower tier was (5) Christie (quick but overbearing), (6) Kasich (wonkish but egotistical), and (7) Carson (reflective but irrelevant). Christie gained a little, Kasich coasted, Carson lost a little. In the middle was (4) a much improved Jeb, in his best debate performance–but, as Jeb would say, “Here’s the deal”: too little, too late.
James Lacy, Publisher, California Political Review
Trump was almost eloquent in reminding Cruz that William F. Buckley was a New Yorker and in also speaking to our nation’s passion for New York on 9/11. He gained. Fox Business News proved again their moderators can ask tough questions and at the same time present a really fair and balanced debate.
Michael Der Manouel, Jr, Chairman, Fresno County Lincoln Club
Trump was again the winner, and was hardly attacked by anybody else tonight. He acts like a candidate that is leading and is in charge. For those of you looking for specifics, you’ve obviously never run anything. He will surround himself with people to implement a broad vision and attend to the details, which is what great CEOs do.
Harmeet Dhillon, Vice Chairman, California Republican Party
Cruz, Rubio, and Trump had the best evenings tonight, while a few of the others seem to have given up on possibly winning the nomination. This was one of the more dignified and productive debates, both with regard to the respectful moderators with smart questions and control, and with regard to real exchanges between the candidates.
Bruce Bialosky, Columnist and founder of the Republican Jewish Coalition of CA
This was the best debate yet; it was both enlightening and entertaining. Any of the candidates on stage would be eminently more qualified to be president than a branded congenital liar and a self-branded socialist. Winners: Trump and Rubio: Loser: Ben Carson
Celeste Greig, Grassroots Conservative Leader, Publisher GreigReport
Who won the Debate? 1.- Donald Trump, 2.- Marco Rubio, 3.- Ted Cruz, 4.- Chris Christie. Businessman Donald Trump continues to lead on all the national polls, and tonight was no surprise. Yes, he admitted that he is “angry, angry” because of the direction our country is going. He went on to say that “we have to stop with political correctness,” arguing for a temporary ban on Muslims entering our country. He wants security for our country, and defended New York City (Manhattan) and how people got together and united after the 9/11 massacre. He reiterated being open to tariffs against China, because we have a losing trade deficit, which is not fair trade.
Joel Pollak, Editor-in-Chief, Breitbart California
It was Ted Cruz’s night, the best debate by any candidate so far–until he made a colossal blunder by defending his attack on Donald Trump’s “New York values.” Trump’s response was so good that even his critics praised it. Any president will only receive about half the votes but has to represent ALL the people. Cruz has shown in the past that he understands that, but fell short tonight–and gave Trump a chance to look statesmanlike. Otherwise, Jeb Bush had his best night, but it is far too late to make a difference.
Thomas Hudson, Chairman, California Republican Assembly
Senator Ted Cruz did an extraordinary job of fighting back when all of the attacks were directed at him. Now that he is riding high in the polls, he has become the prime target for the media, the Republican establishment, and all the other candidates, but he handled the debate so well that it gave me hope for his ability to respond to the inevitable “October surprise” if he becomes the Republican nominee.
Thomas Tucker, Founder, California New Majority
GOP candidates have “raised the bar;” impressive transition from prior hyperbole to substantive debate. I am pleased to say that I saw our next president tonight, but I am unable to say (for certain) who that person is.
Shawn Steel, Republican National Committeeman from California
Cruz takes control and starts strong with the shock of US sailors on their knees with their hands up. High point = Cruz’s eligibility. Cruz thumps Trump–Trump pushes back hard–deftly, Cruz closes with: I’ll name Trump as Vice President and if Cruz is removed Trump becomes President. Trump never apologizes & holds his own–but Cruz is the only one to repeatedly take on Trump. Cruz pops Trump’s “New York Values”–Trump insulted countered nicely that NY has 9/11 values. Marco sought to soar above the noise–just too many others eating the clock. Near the end, the Cubans mixed it up, calling each other liars. Christie says Obama is a petulant child but likes Rubio and was best in deconstructing Hillary. Carson worries of declining morals, was most spiritual. Jeb tried to be relevant. Kasich less angry–maybe running for Vice President. This debate needed more Hillary-bashing.
Sam Sorbo, Actress and Conservative Talk Show Host
Why won’t GOP candidates name the real enemy: progressivism/liberalism? Memo to Kasich: nostalgia is passé. Memo to Carson: “Wake me up” is never a good way to start a debate!
Linda Ackerman, Republican National Committeewoman for California
Too much time spent on Question of Cruz’s citizenship. Christie made a great point on the increase of Republicans in the house, the Senate and Governors one the 7 years of Obama’s presidency. Liked Dr. Carson’s call for a return of Judeo-Christian values. Kasich is sounding more and more like the knowledgeable, experienced and tested adult in the room. Rubio has great responses to the issues on national security. He is quick and demonstrative!
Jon Fleischman is the Politics Editor of Breitbart California. A longtime participant, observer and chronicler of California politics, Jon is also the publisher at www.flashreport.org. His column appears regularly on this page. You can reach Jon at firstname.lastname@example.org.